One approach to music is to do whatever you want. Absolutely anything goes. But to me, that’s too free. It’s anti-inspiring because having infinite options is overwhelming.
Another approach to music is to follow tradition. You stay within the guidelines of a genre or style. But to me, that’s too strict and sad. It was someone else’s innovation. To imitate it now with rules and recipes is just nostalgia. It’s uninspired and dishonest.
So my favorite approach to music is in-between. You make up your own rules, and apply them to a piece of music. You know what this is called? An experiment!
- Experiment with limitations. Write a piece using only two instruments and five notes. Write a lyric using only nouns and no verbs.
- Experiment with textures. Record an arrangement using only children’s toys or samples of birds.
- Experiment with density. Write a piece featuring fifty instruments. Then do a solo piece using only your left hand.
I loved learning and applying specific techniques. Like I’d learn a certain way of developing a melody, then go write melodies using that method. I’d learn about re-harmonizing — where you keep the same melody but change the chords underneath, completely changing the mood — then I’d go apply that to all of my songs. Techniques to build tension. Techniques to change time.
With each new thing I learn, I have to try it, and make something. It might not even sound good, but that’s OK. The goal was just to see what happens, so there’s no way to fail. It’s all just fertilizer for future creations.…
I’m not an active musician anymore, but now I find that the way I approached music is the way I approach life.
After I sold my company and life was a blank slate, I found that having too much freedom was overwhelming.
But I’m not going to buy into an -ism and follow a set of ancient rules.
So instead I do experiments. I make up rules, and apply them to my life for a while. Like…
- Experiment with limitations, fear, detachment, or my definition of home.
- Experiment with fame, boundaries, expanding, quitting, or my self-image.
- Experiment with vulnerability, commitment, saying yes, or saying no.
I usually try the opposite of whatever I did before.
I still love learning and applying specific techniques. Techniques for conversation. Techniques to stretch time. I’m glad I know how to re-harmonize because there are melodies in my past I can’t change, but I can change the thoughts underneath.
With each new thing I learn, I have to try it. It might not even feel good, but that’s what experimenting is about. The goal is still to see what happens, so there’s no way to fail.